Atherton: Charges fly over mailers as election season wraps up
Atherton residents should probably be forgiven if they were confused by a flurry of last-minute campaign materials they received last week, including a letter from the mayor sent to refute an earlier mailing by the Atherton Police Officers Association, which has now prepared a letter refuting the mayor's letter, adding the claim that he wrongly spent taxpayer money to send his letter.
Opponents of Measure F, which would approve locating a new library in Holbrook-Palmer Park, also sent out a last-minute email suggesting the public employees' union representing county librarians had secretly funded the campaigns of the Yes on F library measure and of City Council candidate Denise Kupperman.
Both Ms. Kupperman and Yes on F officials strongly deny the allegations in the email.
At its Oct. 17 meeting, the Atherton council authorized Mayor Widmer to respond to campaign materials from the Atherton Police Officers Association Political Action Committee. The APOA had endorsed council candidates Elizabeth Lewis, the incumbent, and Cary Wiest, and sent out mailings and an automated phone call to residents.
The recorded call, from APOA president Dave Metzger, said, in part: "your police department could eventually be outsourced to the San Mateo County Sheriff's Department depending on the current and future actions of your city council."
The council voted unanimously to allow Mayor Bill Widmer to prepare a press release with the council's response to the APOA mailings. Mayor Widmer did prepare a press release, but a copy of it was also mailed to every town resident.
This riled up the APOA, which prepared a letter in response, dated Oct. 29, that said, in part: "Astonishingly, Mayor Widmer took liberties with his authorization. He chose to send a letter to every resident with a "tit for tat" response to our campaign information. He was only authorized to publish a press release. Somehow he unilaterally chose to spend thousands of scarce tax payer dollars in response to political campaign messaging."
Mayor Widmer said he did not send out the press release. "I'm not allowed to send anything out," he said. "It all goes out through the city manager, and he conferred with the city attorney. Obviously they felt it was OK to send the letter out."
In an email to the Almanac, City Manager George Rodericks explained: "The priority of the Council was to get the information out to the residents of Atherton. While the format of the communication was a press release from the Mayor, the clear intent was to ensure that all residents received the information.
"The Town spent approximately $1,000 to mail the press release. This is approximately the same amount the Town would spend on any formal correspondence mailed to all residents on any other issue — such as ordinance revisions, general plan issues, special events, etc. The City Attorney was consulted only with respect to the format of the mailed press release and its conformance to any FPPC rules."
The allegations about the funding for the library and Ms. Kupperman's campaigns came in an email to those on the Athertonians Yahoo email group, which is not related to the town publication, "The Athertonian."
"Could the SEIU, the public employees' union, be secretly funding both the Kupperman and the Yes on F campaigns to win itself fully-protected library jobs in an over-sized library in our park?" the email begins.
It also asks: "Could Yes on F or Kupperman be using reserved JPA Library Tax Funds?" The new library will be paid for with tax funding set aside for the Atherton library as part of a joint powers agreement with other county libraries.
The email used figures from the last campaign financing statements submitted to the state by both the Kupperman and the Yes of F campaigns, which show more money spent than raised, with most of their bills not yet paid.
Ms. Kupperman said the allegations are "just egregious — not based on any fact." While her campaign had spent more money than it had taken in, she made a personal loan of $12,000 to the campaign last week, she said.
"I am fundraising for my campaign," Ms. Kupperman said. "I just loaned my campaign money. I was hoping to get more contributions."
She said she has received "no donation from the SEIU, and in fact has not received any donations from "anyone but individuals."
Ginny Nile, treasurer for the Yes on F campaign, said: "There is absolutely no money from any of the unions," nor from the library fund.